Caught on tape: Kissinger
As far as the Nixon-Kissinger relationship goes, the March 1, 1973 tape is par for the course of their complicated relationship: hard-nosed considerations of policy leavened with Kissinger’s adoring appraisals of his boss’s genius, punctuated by Nixon’s hearty encouragement of such obsequiousness.
The conversation relates to Israel’s security, and includes a discussion of the Israeli and Egyptian bottom lines in the attempts by Kissinger, then the secretary of state, to head off the war that would explode six months later.
That glides into a discussion of a meeting with Golda Meir, then the Israeli prime minister, and her plea for pressure on the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate and go to Israel.
That was not on the agenda, as far as Nixon and Kissinger were concerned: Their philosophy was détente first, and human rights would follow later – but they weren’t about to reveal the strategy to Meir.
“You didn’t give them any specific commitment,” Kissinger says, unaware of the tape Nixon had recording all his meetings with aides. “You prepare your meetings very carefully.”
“And also saying we weren’t planning anything, knowing damn well we will,” Nixon chimes in, apparently referring to his overtures to the Soviets.
Kissinger understands the butter-me-up-Buttercup cue, and lays it on thick, with the requisite dismissal of John F. Kennedy, Nixon’s bugbear even a decade after his assassination.
“Yesterday she was like a tiger,” Kissinger says of Meir. “But in your careful preparation and the subtlety with which you conducted the conversation, never a note in front of you, you take that for granted. You take Kennedy—he was supposedly an expert on foreign policy, but not only—he understood nothing. But Johnson in addition didn’t care. Johnson was bored by it.”
“Was he?” Nixon says.
“Oh yes,” Kissinger indulges.
There follows a Johnson anecdote, and then Nixon returns to policy.
“It’s important to get across to them, Henry, and I hope you’ve gotten to [Senator Jacob] Javitz [Republican of New York) and [Senator] Henry Jackson [Democrat of Washington] and the rest of them, by God, if the Jewish community in this country makes Israel exit permits the ambition of the Russian initiative … it will not work,” he says.
That’s when the conversation takes a dark turn unusual even for tapes notorious for detours by Nixon and his aides into expectorations of paranoid abuse.
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger says. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
“I know,” Nixon responds. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”
There’s more: Nixon calls Jewish lobbying on the issue “unconscionable,” says getting the Soviets most-favored-nation status is critical, and Kissinger returns to flattery, referring to the back and forth with Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev:
“You have outmaneuvered Brezhnev in a way that is almost pathetic.”
Nixon murmurs his assent.